Utah: Unit by Unit Preview

Scout's Utah site breaks down the unit match-ups for Thursday's game between the Utes and the Bruins...

Matchup Preview | October 3, 2013; 8:00PM, Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
 Utah Utes
(3-1, 0-1 Conference)
 UCLA Bruins
(3-0, 0-0 Conference)
Utah DBs
Through the first four games of the season, Utah's defensive backs have had a lot of up and down moments. Opposing teams have been able to pick apart these DB's for the majority of games, and are currently allowing opposing teams to throw for an average of 288.3 yards per game. With the most talented QB's in the nation playing in the PAC-12, Utah's DB's have got to keep improving each and every week if they want to keep on winning games. With Brett Hundley and the UCLA Bruins coming to town, Utah welcomes one of the premier quarterbacks in the conference to Rice-Eccles, and is in for one heck of a challenge defending the UCLA receivers and keeping the duel threat Hundley from putting up some big time numbers. 20. That's the number of players that have caught balls for UCLA this season. This tells me two things: the Bruins have a lot of depth, and they are blowing people out, allowing walk-ons and younger guys to get reps. By comparison, Utah, who has been pretty effective in the passing game, has had 11 guys catch balls. Where does it start with the Bruins? With Brett Hundley, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and a top 10 NFL draft pick on multiple early draft boards. Hundley is a perfect combination of size, arm strength, speed, and smarts for Noel Mazzone's offense. There really isn't much he can't do. Still some issues with accuracy on crossing routes and deep balls, but with all of the weapons he has around him, even errant passes sometimes turn into big gains. Hundley's favorite target is speedy senior Shaq Evans, who has 13 catches for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. He is the Bruins best deep ball threat. Devin Fuller is a converted quarterback who can kill teams with his speed, especially on quick slants over the middle that he'll turn upfield into big gains. There's size and speed all over the place with these receivers. Hundley and the UCLA passing game will be one of the biggest tests all season that Utah faces. The stats may not show just how good Hundley and his top receivers are, as they often sat out the later parts of games due to early season blowouts. Keep an eye on true freshman Thomas Duarte. He doesn't have big stats so far this year, but his skillset is a bad matchup for a Utah team that has trouble with tight ends that catch everything. He's very similar to Jake Murphy.
Utah LBs
Against a run heavy team in BYU, Utah's LB's stepped up to the plate and really had very solid game in stopping the run first, while also covering running backs out of the backfield and tight ends. Jason Whittingham has been a very nice surprise at middle linebacker, as he has shown the ability to stuff the run up the middle, while also getting a decent drop in pass coverage. On the outside, Jared Norris and Jacoby Hale have really solidified themselves as Utah's best linebackers. Norris has started all 4 games, and is currently the teams' 2nd leading tackler. Norris has really improved his lateral speed which allows him to be much better in coverage. It's always been known that Jacoby Hale is the most athletic linebacker on the team, but the redshirt junior has struggled with injuries his entire career and up to this point prevented him from making any sort of impact. Now healthy, Hale adds a lot of speed on the edge of Utah's defense, and also gives Utah and additional pass rushing threat when he's on the field. Hale is 2nd on the team in sacks with 2, but has also racked up 3 TFL's. When those three aren't on the field together, look for VJ Fehoko, Quade Chappuis and LT Filiaga to be the primary back-ups. Fehoko and Fliaga are more run stopping LB's, while the former safety Chappuis brings speed and aggressiveness. Speed will be key when playing UCLA, as they won't be a huge threat up the middle with their running game. UCLA has great athletes and will rely on their speed to try and beat Utah to the edge, not only with their running backs, but with QB Brett Hundley as well. An addition, the Utah LB's will have to play technically sound against UCLA and limit the amount of broken tackles they have. If Utah can consistently wrap up the ball carrier on the first hit, I like their chances.

Jordon James is in his first year as a starter for the Bruins, and has done an admirable job in replacing all American Jonathan Franklin. Averaging 138 yards per game so far, James has a good combination of power and speed. Solid hands coming out of the backfield, he's an all around threat. Does struggle with dancing in the backfield a bit, show some hesitancy instead of hitting the hole, but is a highly talented back. Behind James is Steven Manfro, a shifty runner that played most wide receiver last season, and Paul Perkins, a freshmen that is comparable to James. All three of the main backs have shown good hands and the ability to score each time they touch the ball. If all else fails, they'll bring in the battering ram known as Malcolm Jones, who despite not living up to his five star ranking through his UCLA career, is still a big, solid back that can grind down a team later in the game. The UCLA run game seems to have most of its success running behind the X-Man (shocker), and between the guard and tackle, but haven't been overly successful on runs up the middle (at least early in games). Utah needs to keep them from getting outside and into the second level, as well as pick up a few tackles for loss to get the Bruins in to second and third and long situations if they're going to have any chance.
Utah DL
The strength of Utah's defense to date, the Ute DL has played exceptionally well through the first four games. Nate Orchard has become a legitimate rush DE and Tenny Palepoi has stepped in for the graduated Star Lotulelei and played about as well as anybody could have hoped. Utah has depth at the tackle position where players like Latu Heimuli, Seni Fauonuku, and LT Tuipulotu have all contributed at different times this season. They'll all be needed on Thursday as UCLA's offensive line is big, physical, and very talented. Utah will likely shuffle as many bodies through the line as possible giving them fresh, rested legs to attack the Bruin front. The matchup to watch on the line will be all-American tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo against Trevor Reilly. Reilly will pose a quick, athletic test for Su'a-Filo and will need to use both his speed and his smarts to beat him off the edge. 

UCLA's offensive line is much improved over a year ago when they gave up 50+ sacks on the year. This year's team scores over 52 points per game. With last year's line, it would be averaging maybe 40. That's how much they've improved. All American Xavier Su'a-Filo returns at left guard and is arguably the top offensive lineman in the country. He gets downfield to block as well as anyone True freshman Alex Redmond has been stellar in his first year opposite Su'a-Filo. Redmond may be the top true freshman lineman in the country through the early part of the season. Center Jake Brendel is coming off of a freshman all American season, while tackles Simon Goines and Torian White have made great strides in the past season.n They're solid, but not great. If you're going to attack this group, do it outside. This group as a whole does a solid job in pass protection, but they really excel in their run blocking, consistently getting into the second level. There's plenty of talented depth as well, although much of it is untested. If the Bruins are able to continue to get the same great push in the run game as they've had so far this season, they should be able to open up nice sized holes for James and company. The Utah defensive line though, is probably the best they've faced to this point in the season. On paper, the Bruins have a solid edge, but if Utah's defensive line outplays them, it will turn the tide more than any other matchup.
Utah QBs/WRs/TEs
Against BYU, Travis WIlson continued his elevated level of play and added yet another great performance to the 2013 season. Wilson has already thrown for 1118 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. The fact that Wilson can also run the ball (251 yards and 5 TD's this season) really makes the 6'6" sophomore tough to defend. If the Utes want to come away with a win against the Bruins, Wilson must limit his mistakes and continue to make smart decisions against a very talented defense led by linebacker Anthony Barr. Dres Anderson is well on his way to having that breakout season we've all been waiting for him to have. With the season ending injury to Kenneth Scott, Dres and the rest of the receivers must continue to elevate their game, as getting separation from the UCLA DB's will be key to the Utes' success. Where the Utes should have an advantage is when Anthony Barr defends Jake Murphy. Barr should struggle with Murphy all game long, as Murphy should get plenty of looks from Wilson. Youth, youth, youth, and more youth. That's what UCLA has in the secondary. What do youthful corners and safeties have a penchant for? Giving up big plays. What has Utah excelled with this season? Big plays. The Bruins start two true sophomores at the corner spots in Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau. Adams is a physical kid who plays the run well. He's picked off one pass this season. Fabian Moreau is the other corner, and he has great size at 6-0, 193 pounds. He's probably UCLA's best pure cover corner based on his early season play. Both are solid Pac 12 corners, who are developing into great players, but are still somewhat untested and haven't taken on a passing threat like the one Utah will present. The safeties have a bit more experience than the corners with junior Anthony Jefferson, who's battled injuries during his time in Westwood. Randall Goforth will start opposite Jefferson, and is coming off of a freshman season in which he made five starts. Goforth has plenty of speed to burn. Overall, the Bruin secondary is giving up 177 yards per game through the air, but have faced three teams that don't exactly prioritize throwing the ball. Utah is going to put it up 35+ times, and if the front seven isn't getting pressure, Wilson and the Utah receiving corps is good enough to put up 300 yards if they play to their potential. This secondary is aggressive though, and mistakes by Wilson will result in interceptions.
Utah RBs
Bubba Poole continues to show why he is the starter at running back, as he brings big play ability and versatility in the pass game that allows Utah to use him multiple ways. Poole now has 58 carries on the year for 324 yards, and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. His longest run on the year came in the last game against BYU, as he took an inside run out to the sidelines and picked up 65 yards. Big plays are something that Utah is really focusing on this year as an offense and Poole brings that ability. Poole also has caught 15 balls for 120 yards. After getting banged up in the first couple games, and losing his starting job, Kelvin York finally showed why many thought he'd be the feature back this year against BYU. York only had 7 carries for 27 yards against the Cougars, but there was noticeable difference in his attitude and demeanor while running the ball. York finally decided to just put his head down and run as hard as he can through the holes, rather than try and do too much by making a defender miss. If York remains healthy and determined, he'll present a very nice 2nd option for the Utes in the run game, as him and Bubba Poole are very nice compliments to each other's skill set. The odd ball out with York getting carries is Lucky Radley. After seeing multiple reps against Oregon State, including 2 catches for 30 yards and a touchdown, Radley failed to see the field on offense against BYU. Radley isn't a big presence in the running game between the tackles, but he's excellent in space and is great catch passing threat out of the backfield. At this point it's hard to say what's going to happen with Radley the rest of the year, but when he does see the field, he'll be a big time threat in space. You're looking at 4 future NFL linebackers for UCLA, and that's just in the starting lineup. The big name is Anthony Barr, who had 13.5 sacks last season in his first year at the position. You hear athletic freak thrown around a lot. This guy is one that actually fits the mold. Whether it's sacking QBs, running down back from behind, or forcing fumbles with huge hits, Barr is the total package. He does struggle a bit when defenses run right at him, but with UCLA bringing him up to the line of scrimmage most of the time, they mask his deficiency. Eric Kendricks is coming off of a season where he led the conference in tackles. He's as consistent and productive as any player on the entire defense. Jordan Zumwalt has had a great year to this point, with tons of tackles and laying plenty of big hits on backs. There's a good chance that he ends up on Jake Murphy when the Utes throw the ball. Want to have some fun watching a linebacker? True freshman Myles Jack is a blast. The kid has athleticism through the rough, will rush the passer, drop into coverage, line up at corner, and be in on very tackle. He'll be all over the field. Future all American and probably the best true freshman in the conference so far this year. You'll also gets looks at Anthony Wallace, Deon Hollins, and a few other younger guys. Still, the Bruins linebackers can be had in slowing the run at times, especially against a mobile quarterback that can take the ball up the middle. Take it outside, and he'll be run down repeatedly in the backfield.
Utah OL
Utah's offensive line has played well for the most part this season but they've been a bit underwhelming considering where pre-season expectations were and the level of competition they've faced. The Utes will now play eight straight Pac-12 opponents, most of which will employ fronts better than anything Utah has seen yet. UCLA will be the first of many and with players like DE Cassius Marsh and DT Seali'i Epenesa (along with all-conference LB's Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr) Utah's line will need to step up their play to slow down the Bruins rush. The interior of the Ute line should be just fine, but tackles CJ Poutasi and Siaosi Aiono will need to play their best game yet to keep Wilson protected for all four quarters. The line as a whole will need to have a much better push in the run game for the Ute offense to be successful. If Wilson is forced to rely on the pass game for four quarters this game could be over in a hurry.  Depth. Talent. Size. Speed. The Bruins' 3 man front rotates a lot of guys, and has plenty of serviceable players. DT Seali' Epenesa is a rock in the middle and as valuable as any of them. He can get pushed around a bit if he takes a play off (yes, I've seen it), but when he wants to, can eat up a ton of space. Not someone that is going to get into the backfield or make a lot of tackles, but does his job. That opens things up for the guys on the outside. Senior defensive end Cassius Marsh has been a starter since his freshman senior and can be a terror both rushing the passer and in the run game. Keenan Graham has bounced around from OLB to DE and has now found his spot as a pass rusher, leading the team with 3 sacks. Utah fans will also be introduced to all-world recruit and true freshman Eddie Vanderdoes, who can play both inside and outside, but will usually line up as an end. He's a good as the come in the country as a true freshman. How will Utah beat the Bruin line? Not by running with James Poole and Kelvin York. York may be able to pound it a bit up the middle, but Travis Wilson is going to have to be able to slip past defenders at the line, by running up the middle. That's where UCLA has been most susceptible so far this season with a quarterback that can move. As for slowing down the line and linebackers on passing downs? Good luck. Wilson is going to take some hits. He'll have to stay composed and get rid of the ball quickly.
Utah Special Teams
UCLA Special Teams
Utah's special teams unit has been stellar in 2013. Tom Hackett leads the Pac-12 in punt average booting his kicks an average of 43.3 yards per punt. He is also tied for the lead in the conference in punts inside the 20-yard line with 9 and punts of 50+ yards with 6. Field position will be of vital importance against the Bruins, so it's nice to know the Utes have one of the best at pinning the opponent deep. At kicker, "Automatic" Andy Phillips has yet to miss a try (7/7 FG, 21/21 XP) and could potentially play a big part in the outcome on Thursday. If Utah has a chance to win the ballgame late Kyle Whittingham knows he has a player he can rely on if he needs to. The Utes ultimately may need to make a play on special teams if they want to win on Thursday, and if they do it's nice to know they have the playmakers available to step up and make those plays. The Bruins have been steady in the special teams department this season. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn is automatic from inside 40 yards. Outside of that, and he's 2 for 5. Plenty of leg, but accuracy has been the issue. Punter Sean Covington is a true freshman, and has punted only three times this year for an average of over 45 yards per punt. The Bruin kick return game has been decent with an average of 23 yards per return, aided in part by a 70 yarder by Steven Manfro against New Mexico State. They are one of the leaders in the country though in kick return coverage giving up only 16.1 yards per return. Utah hasn't show the ability to return the ball with much success, meaning the Utes may be looking at a lot of long fields. Shaq Evans is UCLA's main punt returner and is a threat every time he gets it with an average of 24.5 yards per return. The Bruins have yet to yield a punt return this season.
Utah Coaching
UCLA Coaching
After dominating BYU in the first half of their last game, the Utah coaching staff came out in the second half and had their team play very conservatively, as if they were trying not to lose, instead of trying to win. If the coaches find themselves in a similar situation on Thursday, they must avoid going conservative as UCLA has proven that they can make a huge, second half comeback, as they did against Nebraska earlier in the season. When coming off of a bye week, or any extra time to prepare for an opponent, Kyle Whittingham and his staff are 18-5 in Whitt's 9 years of being a head coach. Coach Whitt and his staff do an excellent job of dissecting an opponents' film when they have extra time to prepare, and that will certainly play as an advantage for Utah in this game. The biggest key for the Utah coaching staff in the game against UCLA is to stay aggressive on both offense and defense. UCLA has the better athletes, but if they can make Brett Hundley uncomfortable on defense, and test UCLA's line backers and secondary in coverage, the game should play to Utah's advantage. Jim Mora has assembled one of the top coaching staffs in the conference, led by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Under Mazzone, the Bruin offense has taken on a new identity as one of the most explosive in the country. Mora himself has proven to be a perfect fit for the college game, going 12-5 to this point and winning the Pac 12 South title in his first season at the helm. If there is something UCLA coaches do as well as any staff, it's make adjustments, particularly at halftime. Defensive coordiantor Lou Spanos has him teams shutting down opponents later in the game. The Bruins are yet to give up a 3rd quarter point, and have scored 62 of their own. Mora has his kids believing that they can win a Pac 12 title. If he can ever clean up the penalties, he might get them there.

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